News of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s victory sent shockwaves around the world and was a cause of celebration for many. From China to Australia, to Canada, world leaders have made it a point to extend congratulatory remarks and express a willingness to repair the damage done to international relations under the Trump presidency.
While other countries are excited about the political ramifications of the most recent election, for many Indians the excitement is a bit more personal. Born of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, for many, Harris is the embodiment of the American dream. She is the daughter of immigrants who came to this country in pursuit of opportunities that meant a better life for them and their loved ones.
Dr. Donald Harris, Kamala’s Jamaican-born father, is a tenured economics professor at Stanford, while her mother Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris (now deceased) was a renowned breast cancer researcher. While Kamala’s relationship with her father seems tenuous, she was incredibly close to her mother and credits her with the success she has achieved. Maya Harris, Kamala’s sister tweeted, “You can’t know who Kamala Harris is without knowing who our mother was.”
Now, with the realization that Kamala Harris will not only be the first female vice-president, but also the first of Indian descent, many from her ancestral homeland are bursting with pride. In Thulasendirapuram village in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvarur district, the place where Harris’s grandfather was born, was bustling with joy upon receiving news of her projected victory.
“For two or three days we kept our fingers crossed while the result was delayed,” said village resident Kalidas Vamdayar. “Now it’s a joyful moment for us. We are enjoying it.”
Here, Kamala is described as the “daughter of their village”, and her success has been met with celebration. Village residents were singing, dancing, and lighting firecrackers throughout the day after the announcement on Saturday, November 7th, and “cutouts and posters wishing Harris a “grand success” adorned walls.”
“People congregated in groups of 30 or 40 exchanging sweets, delicacies, and snacks at different spots. They seemed to be celebrating Diwali, the most popular Hindu festival of lights, a week ahead of time. Young children carrying placards with photos of Harris ran around the village.”
More specifically, Kamala Harris’s uncle Gopalan Balachandran said that he “was feeling ‘proud and happy’,” adding that he “told his niece a day earlier that she was ‘going to win’ to become the next US Vice President.”
Harris’s maternal aunt Dr. Sarala Gopalan added, “How do you think I should feel about her victory? I feel very happy,” when asked about her niece’s accomplishments.
Thankfully, Kamala Harris has not strayed too far from her Indian roots, regularly reaching out to her family for support. “A few years ago, after Harris called her up with a request, Dr. Gopalan broke 108 coconuts at the Varasiddhi Vinayagar temple in keeping with the traditional practice.” She has also made donations to the temple in her grandfather’s home village, a practice that has not been forgotten, and was honored with special prayers on her behalf after her success.
While it is important to celebrate the impact the most recent election will have on the country and the world at large, it is also important to remember the impact it has on the individuals represented by Kamala Harris’s victory. She is an example of what women, people of color, and even immigrants can achieve in our country.